Old Dhaka (2)

August 16th, 2016

(continuing our historical tour)

In Mughal period, Sheikh Enayet Ullah, a landlord, acquired a very big area and built a beautiful palace.  Around 1740 A.D., the son of the Sheikh sold the property to French traders. The French became very wealthy doing business here in competition with the English. However, in the English-French war, French were defeated and all their properties was captured by the English. For the next 40 years the property switched back and forth between the French and the British several times.  Finally, in 1830 the French were forced to leave subcontinent. They sold all their properties in Dhaka. A trader, Khwaja Alimullah purchased the property.  After his death his son named the property “Ahsan Manzil” for his son Ahsan Ullah.

In the evening of 7th April, 1888, a great tornado/cyclone hit Dhaka city causing great damage. Ahsan Manzil was greatly damaged and abandoned. After the death of Khwaja Ahsanullah in 1901, the glory of Ahsan Manzil was ended. His successors couldn’t maintain it.  They rented different parts of the palace to tenants, who actually made it a slum. In 1952 the goverment acquired the property and in 1985, Dhaka National Museum made it a museum.

We were not allowed to take photos inside the museum.  There are beautiful vaulted ceilings, large wooden stairs leading to the second floor with carved bannisters, marble rooms, and colourful ceramic tiles on the floors.  While we visited inside a downpour arrived outside and we were unable to visit the grounds.  Our guide and none of the websites I read, could explain why the palace is painted pink.  It is—and so is commonly called the “Pink Palace.”

We walked to some places and in one area the school children were lining the streets forming a “human chain against terrorism.”  There were several hundred children.  Our photos only show the boys’ line but later we also saw girls forming a “human chain.”

We explored what is known as Hindu Street. Hindu Street has been inhabited by Indian artisans for nearly 300 years.  The street looks like any other in Old Dhaka; narrow, packed with people, and dirty.  The buildings have been inhabited by the artisans for centuries, are in serious disrepair, and appear not to have been renovated for just as long.  Lining this street of weathered facades are shops selling traditional instruments, jewelry made from conch shells, and bouquets of marigolds.  Along the street at various places are Hindu temples where worshippers gather in front of ornate statues.

Sadarghat River Port, on the river Burigangais (Old Ganges), is one of the most vibrant places in Dhaka. Here, the Sadarghat Launch Terminal is one of the largest river ports in the world. About 200 large and small passenger launches depart and arrive at the terminal every day. According to the officials at the terminal, 30,000 people, on average, use the terminal for departure and arrival daily. Visiting this place was pandemonium.

The River Buriganga, though smelly and muddy, is the lifeblood of Old Dhaka. There are large river ferries, overladen with people and local produce, with loading and unloading activities to ramshackle warehouses on the riverfront. Triple-decked ferries are docked along the side of the jetty while small wooden boats ply their trade in between.

Among all the large ships are the tiny wooden boats which cross the river with their single oarsman standing at their bows.  We were scheduled to ride one of these boats, but because of the rain and the lateness of the day, we did not.  There are some very luxurious launches and steamers here. These are the commercial transport to the southern part of Bangladesh.

We travelled to Old Dhaka by car from our home but then rode rickshaws between most of the sites.  Chaos!  Jams!


Old Dhaka

August 15th, 2016

Apologies to all those who are not interested in history!  (The following blog(s) is heavy on history!) However, knowing a brief outline of Dhaka’s history helped us understand the sites which we recently saw on a tour of Old Dhaka.

Dhaka is the capital and one of the oldest cities of Bangladesh. The history of Dhaka begins with the existence of urbanised settlements in the area that is now Dhaka dating from the 7th century CE. The city area was ruled by a Buddhist kingdom before passing to the control of a Hindu dynasty in the 9th century CE.  In the early 14th century Islam was introduced and Dhaka was successively ruled by the Turkic and Afghan governors before the arrival of the Mughals in 1608.  The city passed to the control of the British East India Company in 1772 and British ruled the region for the next 150 years until the independence of India. In 1947, Dhaka became the capital of the East Bengal province under the dominion of Pakistan. After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, Dhaka became the capital of the new state.

The Dhakeshwari Hindu temple was probably built in the 12th century (legends vary).  The original 800-year old temple was destroyed during the 1971 War of Independence by the invading Pakistani army.  The temple complex has undergone repairs, renovation and rebuilding in its long years of existence and its present condition does not resemble the original.  It is now state-owned and considered the most important Hindu place of worship in Bangladesh.

There are four small temples of the same size and shape.  Each of them is built on a platform approached by a flight of steps and inside has an abstract representation of the deity Shiva on a pedestal.  On another side of the area stands the main temple.  It is a three-roomed structure with a veranda.  In the central room stands a large Shiva deity with icons of Rama and Sita in the rooms on either side.

Bangladesh is home to over 15 million Hindus, representing under 10% of the country’s population.

The Khan Mohammad Mirza Mosque was constructed during 1704–05 AD by Khan Muhammad Mirza. The Mosque is built on a raised area about 17 feet above ground level. Beneath the mosque are rooms which were used for living purposes. There is a stairway from the ground which ends with a gateway aligning the central doorway of the mosque proper.  One thing that is different about this mosque is that it stands alone with no other buildings attached.  This allows plenty of space for worshipers on all sides and for free-flow of air.  The building was recently painted which covered the intricate carvings that had adorned the exterior walls.

Lalbagh Fort is an incomplete but renowned fort and a great work of art by the Mughal Empire in Bangladesh from the 17th century.  Mughal prince Muhammad Azam started work of the fort in 1678 during his vice-royalty in Bengal. He stayed in Bengal for 15 months but did not complete it.  Shaista Khan became the new governor of Dhaka but in 1684, his daughter, Pari Bibi died at the fort. After her death, he started to think the fort was unlucky, and left the structure incomplete.  Among the three major parts of Lalbagh Fort, one is the tomb of Pari Bibi.

The Fort consists of 3 areas – the mosque, the tomb of Pari Bibi, and Palace – with a fortification wall around.  Recent excavations have revealed other structures including administration block, stables, etc.  There is also a drainage system for the entire fort and a roof-top garden with fountains and a water reservoir. The palace is a two-storied residence for the governor.  A large hamman (bath) is attached and we could see the underground room for boiling water.  The royal toilet is also here! The grounds of the fort are kept well-manicured.

Star Mosque was built in the late 18th to early 19th century by Mirza Golam Pir, a governor of Dhaka.  In early 20th century, Ali Jan Bepari, a local businessman, financed the renovation of the mosque adding a new verandah and in 1987 the Dept of Archaeology added two prayer rooms. The surface was redecorated with Chinitikri work (mosaic work of broken China porcelain pieces), a decorative style that was popular during the 1930s. All over the mosque the motif of stars dominate the decoration and so the mosque is called the Star Mosque (Tara Masjid in Bengali).  One can also see motifs of Mount Fuji, a crescent-and-star design, and floral designs on the glazed tiles

The Armenian Church (also known as Armenian Apostolic Church of the Holy Resurrection) reflects the existence of a significant Armenian community in the region in the 17th and 18th centuries. Following the domination of their homeland by Persian powers, Armenians were sent by their new rulers to the Bengal region for both political and economic reasons.  They came to Dhaka for business, trading in jute and leather.  The early Armenian settlers built a small chapel in the midst of their community graveyard. By the end of the 18th century the Armenian community had grown considerably and the chapel was found inadequate for the needs of the community.  So the chapel was replaced by the Holy Resurrection Church.

In the old graveyard a statue stands at the grave of Catachik Avatik Thomas. His wife brought the statue from Kolkata. It is inscribed with the words “Best of Husband.” Today the church is only used on Christmas and Easter.

(By the way, the day of our tour was cloudy, humid, & hot.  In some photos if we look bedraggled—we are!)

River Tour

August 9th, 2016

We spent a recent Saturday on a river tour on the eastern side of Dhaka.  The all-day cruise took place on the Shitalakhya, a branch of the Brahmaputra River.  We joined 2 MCC service workers, 2 of their friends (from Scotland) working here, the friend’s parents who were visiting, plus four children.  It was a cloudy day, but clouds are our friends here—it isn’t so hot!

The tour picked us up at our residence and took us to Kanchon where we boarded a boat.  There were many river-edge sights plus the many other boats using the busy river.  Along the edge we saw gardens built over the water, people swimming/bathing, and many factories.  We could have gone swimming but the water did not look clean!  In fact, a recent article in the newspaper noted how unfit for use the river is.  The factories along the edge dump toxic wastes (chemical dyes, detergents, ammonia, sulfuric acid, bleaching powder, etc.) into the river.

We saw many small canoes and large barges.  We saw barges loaded with sand or logs and empty barges.  We passed several other small pleasure boats with jubilant young people!  We passed a ship-building area where they were using scrap metal from discarded ships.

We stopped along the way and visited Murapara Rajbari.  The feudal lords of the British government in eastern India, popularly known as zaminders, were responsible for construction of a large number of magnificent palaces throughout Bengal.  The Murapara palace was built by Ram Ratan Banerjee, who was appointed treasurer of the Natore estate and rose to a high position and acquired large properties at the end of 19th century. The palace complex is surrounded by three ponds. There are two small temples not far away from the palace complex on the side of its front pond.  The partition of India in 1947 changed the status and importance of the palace complex. The Hindu zaminders left their ancestral homes and migrated to India.  The Murapara palace was acquired by the government under the Abandoned Property Act, taking advantage of the absence of the actual owner. The complex is now being legally occupied by Murapara Degree College and the rear building is used for accommodation by the college staff.  We could see that it had been a magnificent palace at one time but time has taken its toll.  There also had recently been much rain and the surroundings were muddy or under water.

We stopped at another village where we saw the highly skilled traditional Jamdani weaving.  Jamdani is a vividly patterned, sheer cotton fabric, traditionally woven on a handloom by craftspeople around Dhaka. Jamdani textiles combine intricacy of design with muted or vibrant colours, and the finished garments are highly breathable. Jamdani is a time-consuming and labor-intensive form of hand-loom weaving because of the richness of its motifs, which are created directly on the loom.  We asked where the designs were and they said “in their head.”  The weavers take great pride in their heritage and are highly respected for their skills.

The tour included morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea, and ice cream!  We were well-fed.

Organic Village

July 26th, 2016

Our last visit on this trip was to a project called Organic Village.  MCC is working with a local NGO with 20 farmers in this area to grow organic vegetables.  The project began 2 years ago.  The Bogra area is famous for growing vegetables.  MCC sent some of these vegetables to a lab and found many harmful toxins which were making families ill.  Thus the impetus for the project.

Much education needed to be done.  Farmers needed to see the reason for growing pesticide-free vegetables.  MCC did field demonstrations and worked with local agricultural institutes.

We saw composting done a bit differently using cow dung, neem leaves/water hyacinth leaves, ash, molasses, rice bran, and a beneficial fungus.  It takes 50 days for the compost to mature.  Besides the new kind of compost used, other methods to combat disease and avoid pesticides were taught.  Use of sex traps, sticky traps, bait traps, spray from special fruit, neem seed oil, border control plants, and more.

Farmers take their vegetables to a processing plant where they are given a higher price for their produce.  The vegetables are packaged and taken to a store in Bogra to be sold.  Here education also needs to happen.  Customers need to learn why pesticide-free vegetables are better for the health of their family even though the vegetables are a higher price.  Marketing is a new thing for MCC and they are working through another organization for help in this area.

(Note the bag of vegetables bought at the store.  Bangladesh has banned the use of plastic bags in stores.)

IFSM (Improved Farming through Sustainable Market) – Organic Village – got first prize last year in Bangladesh for its pesticide-free vegetables.

Food security

July 25th, 2016

Food security is the overriding theme of MCC projects in the north.  The second area that we visited included many different aspects of food security.  Here we also visited some cows and goats.  But we also stopped by a peace meeting which is held every three months.  Here a group of 30 or more women and men meet to discuss what they are doing and what activities they might hold.  Each person there had received some MCC training.  It might have been training in HIV education, family relationships, community relationships, etc.  This is a community (like most others) composed of Muslims, Hindus, Christians, minorities (aboriginals) who work together.

Additionally, we visited a number of composting projects.   Cow dung is the basis for the composting.  We saw a woman who has started composting and sifts the final result by hand.  She uses it for her garden and sells some.  Some composting is done with the introduction of special worms.  We also visited a more commercial project where the sifting was done on a larger scale through an apparatus designed by an MCC staff member.

Fruit trees have also been given to some families who have very little land.  Some farmers with no land for farming have been given training as mobile mechanics, or driving lessons or sewing classes, etc.

We paid a short visit to a convent which boards primary school girls who attend a nearby school.  We passed by a local “peace playground” established by MCC.  There are virtually no playgrounds for children.  While there were no children there when we passed, we were told that it is very popular with local families on the weekends and holidays.

Income Generation

July 24th, 2016

We travelled to Dimla to visit the Monga Mitigation Project.  (See map.  It was a 5-hour journey to Bogra one day and another 5-hours to Dimla the next day.)  This area of the country is considered one of the poorest regions.

The Monga Mitigation Project was started 10 years ago.  “Monga” in the Bangla language refers to “seasonal unemployment.”  Most of the farmers in this area grew rice.  Rice is very labor intensive during the planting season and during harvest.  However, during the 2 months of growing there is little need for landowners to hire laborers and so there was no employment – no income for many people.

The project began with MCC giving goats to families and teaching them how to raise them.  They then added cows to the project.  They distributed two kinds of cows—local ones which were small but easier to raise and produced more calves; some from another district—which were much larger, harder to raise, but produced bigger calves.  The MCC team needed to do much education, going from home to home.  Farmers didn’t always see the reason for raising animals.  They needed to learn the benefits of de-worming and fighting disease.  MCC staff introduced artificial insemination but farmers needed to learn how and when.

Many of the farmers didn’t have much land so they didn’t have a lot of space to grow anything.  Many only leased a small plot from a landowner.  They might have room to house an animal.  The animals were given to women because it is culturally appropriate work for them and it was a way to improve their lives.  The families were also taught some kitchen gardening.

MCC staff recently introduced growing of grass for feeding the animals.  This was never done commercially before; but now with more cows more grass is needed.  Grass is started from roots and there can be 4-6 crops per year. It is grown on land that is not suitable for other crops.

Malnutrition of animals was a concern so mustard seed oil cakes were introduced as a highly nutritious supplement.  Some farmers are now producing these cakes.  At first the farmers were given everything but gradually, they are being asked to pay a portion.

All beneficiaries receive at least 8 trainings a year on such topics as administration of anti- parasitic drugs, salt mineral block preparation, soil management, food & nutrition, etc.  Training videos were produced and large billboards were created.

There are many, many success stories.  We only met and heard a few of these stories. Women, especially, have been helped through these activities.

  • One woman was given a cow. She raised 4 calves and sold one.  She built a better/stronger house and now sends her children to school
  • One woman sold one of her calves and started a small shop which her husband runs. He uses the milk from her cow for the tea shop.
  • One man was given a bull and earns money by providing artificial insemination services.
  • Several people have been trained as para-veterinarians to help diagnose diseases.
  • Women in general have gained confidence in themselves. They are able to provide more nutritious meals for their families.  They, themselves, get more food.  Earlier, food went to the men and children before women.
  • New businesses have started – selling milk, selling mustard seed oil cakes, selling grass, etc.

Overall, it was an inspiring visit.

  • People are excited.
  • People have bettered their lives
  • Others in the community have seen what can be done.



July 21st, 2016

We just returned from traveling to the north of Bangladesh to see some MCC projects.  Photos and narrative will come later.  This is just some random thoughts/impressions noted as we traveled for 5 days.

Dhaka to Bogra – 120 miles – 5 hours there and 6 hours return

Bogra to Dimla – 110 miles – 5 hours each way

Traffic – much!!  Some of the patterns remind us of other countries where we have lived, but there are also unique patterns.

Constant honking – (Haiti) – in towns it usually means “look, I’m here.”  On the roads outside of towns, it usually means “look, I’m here and I’m coming through.”

A barrier down the middle of the road does not necessarily mean I need to stay on my side.  If I need to get to someplace over there, or if it is too far to the next break in the barrier, I’ll just go down the wrong side.  (Uganda)

Lights – (East Africa) – “It’s not completely dark, I can see, therefore, I don’t need to turn on my lights.”

Passing – (Indonesia) – “So what if this is a two-lane road, I want to pass.  The vehicle coming towards me will get out of the way using the shoulder.”

Pedestrians – At times there seems to be total disregard.  They are very, very seldom given right of way.  On the other hand, pedestrians seem to have no fear walking along the road with traffic coming within inches.  They may even be standing in the lane talking, and just look at you if you honk and want to pass.  Quite unconcerned that you are coming.

Drivers seem to know the space available and the size of their vehicle to within a centimeter!

Don’t worry!  We are in our lane of a two-lane road, a car is passing on the left, a bus is passing on the right, and we see a truck coming from the other direction.

95% of vehicles outside of Dhaka are buses, small lorries, CNGs (described in an earlier post), and bike powered carts or rickashaws.   Very few cars.

Driver – “If I can weave/serve around the object (hole, vehicle), why slow down?

Colorful painted vehicles – (Haiti)

Scenes along the way – but no time for photo

– Soccer game being played in a wet rice paddy with the spectators watching from the banks.

– Woman with a large flat reed basket on her head filled with ducks – heads drooped around the sides.

– Man on a bike, riding in the rain, holding an umbrella with one hand, with a child (3-4 yrs old) standing on the crossbar, weaving around potholes and traffic.

– Our first elephant!  Just walking in the village.

Using an Asian toilet (Sally Jo):

– Locate the correct door – words in Bangla script and often no picture

– Survey the situation

– Wrap orna (scarf) around my neck, even though it is very hot, so that it does not drag

– Hang purse handle over my head so it does not fall

– Throw the back of my chemise over my head so it does not get in the way

– Pull down pants

– Step over the hole, making sure I don’t slip

– Squat

– Relax – Hah!!!!!!!

English accent – Before leaving our room one evening, we discussed the fact that there was plenty of soap in the room, and maybe we could take one with us since we needed a small bar for traveling.  We then got in the van to go for supper.  Our Bangladeshi colleague asked “Would you like soap?”  Huh?  He said it again.  Oh, he’s asking if we want SOUP for supper!

As we sat in bed one evening, three frogs came hopping around the floor!  And we’re going to need to get up in the middle of the night with no light???

We notice that the colors of the material in the north remind us of colors, patterns, and combinations of East Africa.  Different than in Dhaka.

Much of travelling here almost seems to provide over-stimulation

  • So much to learn
  • So much to see
  • So many questions to ask
  • So much activity
  • So many colors



July 6th, 2016

We will most likely have many photos of transportation in the next four months.  The common means for us will be walking or going by rickshaw or CNG.  CNG stands for Compressed Natural Gas. These are enclosed 3-wheeled “carts” with motors that run on natural gas.  They are fairly new vehicles and have helped reduce air pollution a great deal.  Rickshaws are very colorful and are used for short distances.  The CNGs can be used to travel across town.  MCC also has several cars with drivers which we can use at times.

Traffic here in Dhaka is as chaotic as many places we have been.  There are not many motorbikes.  On our trip to Mymensingh, the roads outside Dhaka had a lot of buses but were not nearly as crowded as we expected.

Settling In

July 5th, 2016

We have been here about 2 weeks.  Is that all?  A lot has happened.  AND we feel we know so little!  First of all, we were hit with extreme heat, and we mean extreme heat!  Temps may have registered in the 90s but our phones said the “real feel” was closer to 110!  Part of it was the 90%+ humidity.  It also didn’t help that we did not have A/C in the bedroom for the first week and half.  However, we made it!!  And the last couple of days it has rained.  What a difference.

One of the first items on the agenda was to get some clothes for Sally Jo.  Most women wear a three-piece outfit: salwar (loose-fitting pants), kameez (long tunic top extending at least to mid-thigh) and an orna (a scarf worn over the chest).  Some wear saris but usually only for special occasions.  She had brought a few items from home that she thought would work but mostly they are too hot or not long enough.  There is a wardrobe at the guest house that has a lot of extra outfits so she started with those.  We went with a national staff woman to the market to buy some material.  One can buy sets of cloth that match to make the three-piece outfit.  The variety and colors were almost overwhelming!  However, it was so hot and we were still so “jet-lagged,” that decisions were made quickly.  A tailor then made the clothes.  (And yes, she finds the clothes hot.)

We arrived during Ramadan so that many of the local staff are fasting during the day.  The fast is broken at sun-down with a special meal called Iftar.  We participated in two Iftars—one in Dhaka and one in Mymensingh.  There are special foods and customs related to the Iftar.  People sit with a plate of food in front of them until the exact time (usually announced via the local mosque loud speaker or someone watching their watch).   People first drink a syrupy water and then eat some fresh dates.  Then on to the rest of the food.  There is a lot of rice (!), a vegetable curry, a meat or egg curry, dal, other fried food and a very sweet fried pastry,  (Iftar in homes, would most likely be simpler but always contain water, fresh dates, and rice.)  Food for Iftar can also be bought along the streets in many food stalls.

In these two weeks we also made a car trip to Mymensingh—about 75 miles or 3-4 hours.  MCC has three offices in Bangladesh—Dhaka, Mymensingh, and Bogra.  We briefly met some of the staff, and made quick visits to three partners and the Taize brothers.  We spent the most time with a small project (Probitra) that works with former sex workers.  Twenty women join a group for 9 months to learn life skills and some trade skills.  We visited Sacred Mark which produces soap and some recycled items.  We stopped by another office which cooperates with MCC on peace trainings.  When we visit again we will probably say more about each of these projects.  We ended our fast trip with a visit to the Taize Brothers.  We attended their noon prayers and joined in the common meal afterwards.

Here in Dhaka one day we visited very briefly with a group of Sisters who had been together to learn about reporting for their Global Family programs.  We then had lunch with them.  There are a number of Global Family projects in the country and hopefully, we will get to visit at least a couple of them.

Part of our settling in is that we are here for a number of farewells for MCC workers plus all the activities at the end of Ramadan.  (The last photo of this set was taken at the farewell for the former reps.)  In fact, our first full week in the office as official Interim Reps included only two office days—the rest are holidays!

A Week at Ugly Apple Farm (2)

June 14th, 2016

After building the yurt, we hung two swings near the yurt.

We also did other things during the week.  When we first got there, Lucy was busy with ballet.  She had a dress rehearsal and then a recital given three times.  We attended one of them.  Of course, she was good!

We also watched a new bee hive arrive with a box containing 30,000 bees!  This was set up in a field not far from the house.  Jessica and Christy were feeding them a quart of sugar water a day for the first several weeks until they feel at home.

Lucy’s piano recital was to be held the afternoon of the day we left.  Instead, Sally Jo went with her to her lesson at her teacher’s home.  Interesting to see how one teaches piano to a young child who cannot read and cannot sit still for long!

We cooked.  Lucy planned one meal and helped prepare the food.

Ron and Sally Jo hiked in a park while Lucy went to a birthday party.  We were at Dinosaur State Park so the theme was dinosaurs.  The children were given dinosaur tails to wear.

Sally Jo helped Jessica pull out a few brambles.  This could be a job for a whole week.  Ron spent a whole morning playing “train” with Lucy.  Lucy wanted to make the longest train that was possible with the tracks that she had.  It indeed got quite long.

We celebrated by having ice cream three times!  Very good!

Here are also a few photos from around the house: